Effects of locomotor training after incomplete spinal cord injury: a systematic review

Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2013 Nov;94(11):2297-308. doi: 10.1016/j.apmr.2013.06.023. Epub 2013 Jul 9.


Objective: To provide an overview of, and evaluate the current evidence on, locomotor training approaches for gait rehabilitation in individuals with incomplete spinal cord injury to identify the most effective therapies.

Data sources: The following electronic databases were searched systematically from first date of publication until May 2013: Allied and Complementary Medicine Database, Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, MEDLINE, Physiotherapy Evidence Database, and PubMed. References of relevant clinical trials and systematic reviews were also hand searched.

Study selection: Only randomized controlled trials evaluating locomotor therapies after incomplete spinal cord injury in an adult population were included. Full-text versions of all relevant articles were selected and evaluated by both authors.

Data extraction: Eligible studies were identified, and methodologic quality was assessed with the Physiotherapy Evidence Database scale. Articles scoring <4 points on the scale were excluded. Sample population, interventions, outcome measures, and findings were evaluated with regard to walking capacity, velocity, duration, and quality of gait.

Data synthesis: Data were analyzed by systematic comparison of findings. Eight articles were included in this review. Five compared body-weight-supported treadmill training (BWSTT) or robotic-assisted BWSTT with conventional gait training in acute/subacute subjects (≤1y postinjury). The remaining studies each compared 3 or 4 different locomotor interventions in chronic participants (>1y postinjury). Sample sizes were small, and study designs differed considerably impeding comparison. Only minor differences in outcomes measures were found between groups. Gait parameters improved slightly more after BWSTT and robotic gait training for acute participants. For chronic participants, improvements were greater after BWSTT with functional electrical stimulation and overground training with functional electrical stimulation/body-weight support compared with BWSTT with manual assistance, robotic gait training, or conventional physiotherapy.

Conclusions: Evidence on the effectiveness of locomotor therapy is limited. All approaches show some potential for improvement of ambulatory function without superiority of 1 approach over another. More research on this topic is required.

Keywords: ASIA; American Spinal Injury Association; BWS; BWSTT; CG; CNS; EG; FES; Gait; Locomotion; PEDro; PT; Physical therapy modalities; Physiotherapy Evidence Database; RCT; Rehabilitation; SCI; Spinal cord injuries; body-weight support; body-weight–supported treadmill training; central nervous system; control group; experimental group; functional electrical stimulation; physiotherapy; randomized controlled trial; spinal cord injury.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Electric Stimulation Therapy
  • Gait*
  • Humans
  • Motor Activity*
  • Motor Skills*
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Robotics
  • Self-Help Devices
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / rehabilitation*